Distributed Leadership in Higher Education: Hong Kong Academics' Perceptions and Practices

Sally Wai-Yan WAN
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


Distributed leadership has provided a theoretically-grounded framework to examine leadership practice. The concept 'distributed leadership' is relatively new and lacks a widely-accepted definition. Research in higher education, at the same time, has found shared or disperse forms of leadership, rather than hierarchical leadership, is more beneficial to sustainable improvement (Clark, 1998; Knight & Trowler, 2001; Shattock, 2003). Distributed leadership in higher education, however, is rarely examined. It is thus the aim of this study to explore Hong Kong academics' perceptions and practices of leadership in higher education, focusing on one key research question - How is leadership perceived to be distributed throughout a local university in Hong Kong?. The study uses a qualitative approach with the use of individual interviews with nine academics from a case university in Hong Kong, who were purposively selected. The concept of distributed leadership can be found in the key informants' understandings about leadership practice across multiple levels of the university. Distributed leadership practice is identified as a process of top-down and bottom-up efforts that involved different formal and informal ways of communication, in which collective practice of leadership occurs. Leadership practice is enacted and supported through different ways, such as mentoring scheme, peer observation, and so on from university level to faculty and departmental level. Implications concerning higher education leadership practice as well as further leadership studies are discussed at the end of the paper.

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